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You Are Not Alone

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This post has been submitted by guest blogger, Randy Haaland, a rockstar foster and adoptive dad in North Dakota.

Image result for bear trap ranch

We learned about Road Trip for Dad’s at Camp Connect 2017, which was a summer camp for adoptive parents that was put on by the ND Post Adopt Network.  Mike Berry was the speaker at the camp and he mentioned it during one of his sessions.  When he described it, a few dad’s seemed interested in making the trip, but after the camp was over everyone parted ways.  A month before road trip was to start I was contacted by one of the other dad’s that attended the summer camp to see if I would be interested in road tripping to Colorado to attend Road Trip for Dad’s.  I was a bit hesitant, but was encouraged to go by my wife, which we later found out was a very common occurrence.  After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to go along and give it a try.

We met in Casselton on a Saturday morning and then headed to Bismarck to pick up another dad after that we were on our way to Bear Trap Ranch by Colorado Springs.  One of the dads had planned out our trip because he had experience traveling the route that we were taking.  We shared a lot of experiences on our drive.  We also made some pit stops to sightsee and hit up a couple microbreweries in Deadwood, SD.  He had made reservations at a neat little cook shack called High Plains Homestead in Nebraska.  We ended up spending the night at a small bed and breakfast just down the road.  A couple of the rooms were in a barn, which was comical when we told our wives and kids, but they were actually really nice rooms.  After a good night’s rest, we woke up to a great homemade breakfast from the very interesting and down to earth owner of the bed and breakfast and then we were on our way.  The conversations we had on our road trip were well worth the 14 hour car ride.  I would highly recommend taking the time to actually road trip to Road Trip for Dad’s for anyone looking to attend it.

Arriving at Bear Trap Ranch on Sunday, no one really knew what to expect.  We checked in and claimed our beds in rooms that had two to three bunk beds each.  That night at supper there was a speaker that talked about his experience with adoption, which was really eye-opening to the amount of trauma our kids can come from.  It definitely helped me realize that instead of trying to fix our kid’s problems, sometimes we have to change ourselves and the way we discipline and teach our kids.  That night there was a campfire where we all got to introduce ourselves and learn about each other’s stories.  That night by the campfire really opened my eyes to realize that we are not alone in the parenting of our kids.

The next two days we really had to ourselves to do whatever we wanted.  We did some hiking around the area.   A few dads did some fly fishing one day, another group went up to Pike’s Peak, and of course we went down the mountain to a couple microbreweries.  I would say the most rewarding experience was going on a hike with a large group of dads through a couple old train tunnels.  Just walking through the mountains and seeing all the beauty in the mountains was breathtaking.  It really allowed me to reflect on my past with the kids we have had as foster kids and our kids that we have adopted.  I was able to just sit and think of things I could do differently from the conversations I had with other dads.  I was also able to think about all the ways I could improve on my relationship with my kids and wife.  Over those two days, it really helped me realize that we are not alone in our fight for our kids to be able to have as normal of a life as we can provide them.

The last morning we walked up the mountain to have a cowboy wrangler’s breakfast.  It was an amazing breakfast and it was great to be able to reflect on the past couple days with everyone one last time.  After breakfast we packed up and left.  Leaving was one of the hardest things to do, because it was such an amazing experience, but I was definitely ready to get home and share my experience with the wife and kids.  It is hard to put into words how the trip changed me, but I feel like attending Road Trip for Dads helped me become a better dad.  I have realized over the years of doing foster care that no amount of classes and training can help you deal with some of the issues that our kids come from.  The best training is learning from other families and hearing their stories.  When you listen to someone tell their story and everything starts clicking and you realize that they are talking about exactly what you are going through, it really helps knowing that you are not alone in the battle of raising our kids who came from trauma.

Randy Haaland

 

Click here for more information on Road Trip for Dads!

The Heat of the Moment

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Parents,

You’re in an argument with your child. Their behavior was out of control, they wouldn’t listen, you lost your cool, and the situation intensified. By the time you realize what has happened, it’s done.  How do you save face? How do you handle the next disagreement?

This is a common topic, one that leave parents feeling shame, regret, thinking the “I should haves”, and coming up with the “next times”.  You are not alone in this!  Remember:

  1. You cannot fix what is already done. Whatever happened, big or small, the words have been said, the actions have been completed. The past is the past and no amount of rehashing or self-punishment is going to change it or make you feel better about the situation.
  2. An apology can go a long way. You are human and no human is perfect. Own up to your mistakes! Often, kids can be taken by surprise by an adult saying “I’m sorry for losing my temper. Today has been really tough for all of us, hasn’t it?” Kids are often expected to apologize for things they have done, but do we adults always follow through on that expectation? Offering an apology is not only a great teachable moment for your kids, but it also shows your kids it is safe to make yourself vulnerable within your family.
  3. Move on. Give yourself permission to move on. As human beings, we all do things we aren’t always proud of.  Ruminating on these situations does nothing but makes our brains stay in those negative, gunky feelings.  Give yourself some grace.

So, how do you handle the next behavior issue?

First of all, DO NOT take things personally!  Kids are not in control of their behavior when they are mad. If you personalize this situation, kids then lose their stability in the moment and may feel that you are not a safe place to bring their problems to.  It’s not about you. In the heat of the moment, their brains are firing from a different place- a place full of body memories from their past. As parents, you have to help them bear their storm.  They need you to help them get back into control.

I’m sure we’ve all had situations where we know reprimanding during the behavior is not going to go well.  Sit with them at their level. Breathe. Demonstrate what you want their body language to be. Wait until it is done, then ask “what do we need to do to make this better?” or “how can we help you fix this?” Maybe it’s an apology or replacing a broken item. Have your kid help identity an appropriate consequence for the behavior.

Feel free to share your insight on this. What has worked for you? What hasn’t gone so well? Remember, go easy on yourself.  You aren’t alone in this!

 

 

 

What Do Our Children Need From Us?

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March 22, 2017 | Morgan Nerat, LSW

When parenting children who have been traumatized, or parenting a child who grew up in hard places, it’s often hard to communicate with them or know what they need from us. We are not mind readers, but maybe some of these hints will help you parent your children.

A Set Schedule
Some of the children in the AASK program were raised in a birth home that was not consistent, where things could change in a matter of minutes, and no one knew what the schedule was. Some of the children in the AASK program have moved to foster home to foster home or treatment facility to foster home too many times. Children need predictability due to their past experiences. Many of our children do not do well with sudden change, because it may bring back old memories or cause unnecessary anxiety. For example, when there is an activity coming up, have a talk with your kiddo and prepare them for this upcoming change or about expectations.

Figure Out What They Are Hinting at
Some children don’t know what they want and if they don’t know what they want, how are they going to tell you what they want? Have you ever had your child follow you around the house or maybe stare at you? You ask if they need something, ask if they need to tell you about their day, or you ask if they’re hungry, and their answer is ‘no’. You play a guessing game, but you are losing because you don’t know what they want. Try asking if they would like to play a board game. Try asking if they need a hug. Maybe they need reassurance that you want to spend time with them. Maybe they want a positive physical touch but do not know how to ask for it.

Reassurance
Have any of your adoptive kiddos repeatedly said your name over and over again? When you finally ask what they need, they might pause and attempt to come up with a clever question, because they did not know what to ask you when they started calling for you. Try saying, “if you are asking if I love you, the answer is yes”.

Privacy
You adopted your child/sibling group and you want them to feel part of the family, because they are now part of your family. Therefore, please do not tell everyone about your child’s birth history, how they entered foster care, or why their birth parent’s parental rights were terminated. Don’t be that person who overshares! If your child wants to tell other’s about their story, that is their decision and you can be there to support your child; however, also teach your child about privacy. We all know those people who want to be a bit nosy. Stop them in their tracks and instead, brag about all of your child’s victories and their accomplishments.

Claim Your Child
Oftentimes, I work with children who are looking for someone to claim them. You can make  little comments such as, “I’m so glad our family is complete”, “Our family is blessed to have each other”, “I am so happy to be your dad”, “I’m so glad I can call you my son”.  A family I recently worked with told me a student at their daughter’s school asked if he was her dad. He said, “Yes I am her dad”, and the look on their daughter’s face was pure joy!

 

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Social Media Safety

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February 23, 2017 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

 Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. All examples of social media outlets, with the potential to be harmless or incredibly destructive, especially to our unassuming youth. Protecting your youth from the harmful side of social media is becoming more and more difficult and proper education is becoming the one safeguard against this.

When we think of negative social media use by our teens, often times sexting is the first concern that comes to mind.  When talking to your youth about safety risks of using social media in this way, keeping an open dialogue and setting strict limits is imperative.  In her book, “There’s No Place Like Home for Sex Education: A Guidebook for Parents”, Mary Gossart notes these basic tips:

  • Ask questions: Find out what your youth thinks about sexting. Have any of their friends experienced this? And how did your youth respond?

  • Help your youth brainstorm ways to overcome peer pressure and remind them that your door is always open!

  • Remind them that when they send something, those words and images are now “out of their control”. 

  • Encourage your youth to count to 10 before hitting send and to consider the ways their message could be used.

  • Help your youth realize that impulsivity can “come back to haunt them” and then they have no control of what can happen.

  • Be honest with them when you talk about risks and consequences.

  • Set appropriate expectations for social media use.

  • Ask your youth what impressions they want to give to people and how that impression can change based on what they send. 

  • Keep listening!

If you want to learn more about how to talk with your kids about social media, sexuality, or healthy decisions, ND Post Adopt Network has these books available for check out:

  • There’s No Place Like Home for Sex Education: A Guidebook for Parents by Mary Gossart
  • Breaking the Hush Factor: Ten Rules for Talking with Teenagers about Sex by Karen Rayne

Want more information on social media safety? Check out our webinar, facilitated by Jessica Schindeldecker of the Fargo Police Department!

 

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Dr. Brené Brown on Empathy

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February 23, 2017 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

“What is the best way to ease someone’s pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.”

Supporting a Grieving Child

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February 23, 2017 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

I attended the ATTACh conference fall of 2016 in St. Louis.  Cynthia Agbayani of Lifeworks Outreach Services, Inc. spoke on helping adopted youth grieve losses.

Agbayani noted that a youth once told her that their “heart was cracked” and another stated “if I start crying, I won’t stop”. Too often we assume we know what youth are feeling throughout their journey in foster care and adoption and treat them accordingly, but do we stop to ask them how they perceive their experience? It’s scary and uncomfortable to talk about grief and all too often we tend to avoid it, saying “it’s okay”, “don’t be sad”, “don’t cry”, “it’s fine”.  While we come from a good place in saying those things, we really may be dismissing the true feelings a child is sharing with us.  Their feelings are hurt. They are scared. Their hearts are cracked. And they are opening up to tell us that and we are essentially telling them to stop when we use those common statements.

There is a difference in grief vs. trauma. Processing grief leaves a general feeling of sadness, it can bring relief, and if there is anger, it is usually non-violent.  Processing trauma can lead to feelings of terror, feeling unsafe, and anger maybe physically violent (Levine and Kline, 2007). While grief is healed through emotional release and tends to diminish over time, trauma involves flashbacks, startling, and other symptoms that may worsen over time.

With grief, Agbayani stresses the importance of clearly and honestly answering primary questions for youth, such as “will I ever see my parents again?” or “what will happen to my parents?”.  Glossing over this information will cause confusion and further stress for a child. Your ability to answer these questions for your child and assist them in managing their grief will impact your child’s ability to develop a secure attachment to you as they continue to age.  Normal mourning may include expectations of return, persisting memories, fear of additional losses, and feelings of sadness that will come and go.  Symptoms of failed mourning could include feelings of anxiety, insecurity, as well as blame and guilt.  Youth may have bursts of overactivity, and may have an increase in anti-social, delinquent or depressive behaviors.  They may feel like something is medically wrong with them when there is not, or may become more self-reliant.   Keep in mind, while not all youth that demonstrate these activities have “failed mourning”, they are things to keep in mind as you parent youth from tough places.

To help a child grieve losses, here are some ideas given by Agbayani:

  • As the caregiver, make a list of what may be triggering to your child so you can pay attention to those situations.

  • Provide your child with age appropriate answers to questions they have, regardless of how uncomfortable that question may be for you.

  • Allow your child choices in situations that permit this.

  • Stick to routine as much as you are able.

  • Help your child practice answering questions that peers, teachers, and other adults may ask them (and help them in understanding that it is okay to not share personal information if they do not feel comfortable in doing so).  Give them ideas of what words to use.

  • Make a safe container to hold your child’s heartbreak and anger.

  • Help your child recognize their strong feelings and sensations.

  • Make a life timeline, listing memories, stories, happy and sad times.

(Levine and Kline, 2007)

And keep in mind, youth are not so different from adults. When we are struggling or grieving, we often call our friends or family, or find someone to talk through and process our experiences with. Your child also needs to process their grief with others who listen with empathy in order to grieve successfully (James and Friedman, 2001).

Grief does not completely go away. It will come and go in various ways as your child ages. How you talk about it with your child now will have a huge effect on their ability to handle their grief as they get older.

If you have questions on helping your child process their experiences or would like recommendations for services or providers, please feel free to contact me at postadopt@pathinc.org or 701-551-6349.

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Books referenced in this post:

Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing, by Maggie Kline and Peter A. Levine

When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses, by John w. James, Russell Friedman, and Leslie Matthews

Choosing Professionals

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October 5, 2016 | Sonja McLean

I would like to address a very common question that is coming through the ND Post Adopt Network. Families are wondering how they can find appropriate service providers. They note that when they are looking for therapists, psychiatrists, etc. many are very good at their jobs, but not all are well-versed in the realm of adoption or foster care. They state that it is difficult to find a service provider because wait lists are long and the number of professionals who understand the complexities of adoption narrow options even more.

When choosing a professional to work with, you do not need to necessarily ONLY look at service providers that have the experience of working with adoption, but you do need to note their willingness to learn and understand your family dynamics, your children, and your story.  Here is a great list of questions to ask providers prior to working with them:

1. Do you have experience with foster and adoptive families? If so, how much?

2. How often do you work with them?

3. What adoption-related training have you received?

4. Can you connect me with one or two families willing to give a reference?

5. Do you offer therapy for both the family and the child

6. Will you accept payments from my insurance provider?

If you find a provider that you feel a strong connection with, encourage them to seek adoption specific trainings or to contact the ND Post Adopt Network for information and tools to help them enrich their practice!

Information compiled from “Strengthen Your Forever Family: A Step-by-Step Guide to Post-Adoption” by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Mentoring

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August 15, 2016 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

 

After adoption, many families wish they had friends that really understand what they are going through as they parent youth from foster care.  Extended family and friends mean well, but don’t always quite understand the unique issues that surround adoption-they don’t “get it”.

ND Post Adopt Network is creating a mentoring program for you as adoptive families. According to Richard Delaney in his book “Safe Passage”, mentoring is defined as “teaching, tutoring, or coaching provided by a trusted confidant.” (p.5)  It’s goals are to “stabilize, overcome isolation, engender hope, and provide safe passage for a child and family.” (p. 5) The intent is that adoptive families help other adoptive families by validating feelings, providing support, and showing that they understand what they are going through.

Families are able to participate in this program in two ways:

  1. Be connected to a mentor!  Do you have questions that you wish you could talk to another adoptive family about? Would you like to learn how others handled situations? Are you looking for someone to check in with you to see how you are doing?  Your family can be connected to another who has gone through similar situations and knows how to navigate the system.

  2. Be a mentor family! Have you adopted? Do you have an interest in helping other families through tough times through phone calls, text, email, and/or providing informal respite? If so, you can apply to be a mentor family.

We are so excited to be able to offer this support to adoptive families! To participate in this mentoring network, email Sonja at postadopt@pathinc.org or call her at 701-551-6349.

As It Stands

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June 27, 2016 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

July 1st.

Happy New (fiscal) Year! 🙂

I wanted to share some of our great progress with you all:

  • Support groups: A huge thank you to everyone who is participating in the support groups that are being held in Bismarck, Fargo, and Minot. Our groups are strong-we have had great conversation and learning opportunities available to adoptive families and I hope these will continue to grow! (Pssst….Dickinson! Your support groups are on deck to start this fall! Stay tuned!)
  • Webinars: We had our first webinar in June and it was a total success! Webinars are held quarterly throughout the year. Topics upcoming in 2016 are Social Media Safety and Self-Care. 
  • Mentoring: We have a list of adoptive families that are interested in supporting other adoptive families. We will soon hold a 4-6 hour training for our mentoring families, but they are available to us now when there is a need!
  • Adoption Camp: There is a committee exploring options for a 2017 summer overnight camp for adoptive families. This is a very exciting concept and we are looking forward to seeing it come to fruition! Again, stay tuned!
  • Welcome Information: Families that adopted (through AASK) from 2012-present have all received information about our network. Other LCPAs (Licensed Child Placing Agencies) in the state have our information and are giving it to their adoptive families, as well. Information will be sent out to subsidized guardianship families from ND DHS with their annual review packets.
  • Training/Education:  I will be presenting on adoption/post adopt at the Fall Festival of Training in Region V in the fall. Hope to see you there! Look for trauma trainings geared toward adoptive families in early spring!
  • Case Management: I have worked with over 30 families in the last 6 months, helping to navigate the child welfare system, finding adoption knowledgeable supports, and advocating for their child’s needs.  I am here to be a listening ear, share what I  know, and plug you into our network!

These are the highlights of the last 6 months. Lots of progress, a long way to go!

My vision is that this service reaches every North Dakota family who has adopted and that it provides you useful information and support as you raise your children.  As always, I am open to suggestions and feedback to make this vision a reality! Please feel free to contact me by emailing through the website or to postadopt@pathinc.org. You may also call me toll free at 844.454.1139. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for committing to the children in your home, both temporary and permanent, however they got there.

Sexual Behavior Problems in Children

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June 27, 2016 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

I recently went through a Trauma Training with Heather Simonich presenting. I have seen this presentation many times but continually take away very useful information from it each time. For those of you who have not heard her speak, I would HIGHLY recommend it! For those of you that have, ENCOURAGE others to go!

Heather shared a very applicable article with attendees and I wanted to share it with you. Click the link to open the article:  “Understanding and Coping with Sexual Behavior Problems in Children” from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  It discusses what may be harmless curiosity and what may pose a risk to the child or others.

Per the article noted above, it is important to remember that sexual behavior problems:

  • Are not limited to any particular group of children

  • Occur in children across all age ranges, socioeconomic levels, cultures, living circumstances, and family structures.

  • Are not related to children’s sexual orientation.

Also according to the article, “children who receive treatment for their sexual behavior problems rarely commit sexual offenses or abuse as adults.” This is important to keep in mind–and shows how imperative proper treatment and education is!

If you would like to chat more on treatment options, youth developmental stages, or adoption issues, please give me a call or send an email through the website. I would be happy to help!

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